Ontario health officials urge doctors to see patients in person rather than virtually

Ontario health officials urge doctors to see patients in person rather than virtually-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Dr. Kieran Moore says family doctors are now expected to see patients in person. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The Ontario government is urging all doctors to care for patients in person rather than virtually, saying it’s now safe given high COVID-19 vaccination rates and readily available personal protective equipment.

In a letter to Ontario physicians Wednesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, assistant deputy health minister Patrick Dicerni and College of Physicians and Surgeons CEO Dr. Nancy Whitemore say they’ve increasingly been hearing complaints about offices not providing in-person care.

“There are limits to what can be done virtually and the standard of care is often difficult to meet in a virtual-care environment,” the letter says.

While it is ultimately up to physicians to determine what type of appointment is needed, in-person care is necessary to make diagnoses and decide treatments and is what’s expected, it continues.

“There are many patients for whom the standard of care cannot be met in a solely virtual care environment,” the letter reads.

This month, CBC News reported that Toronto parents were struggling to get in-patient appointments with their child’s pediatricians, even after testing negative for COVID-19. They were instead referred to SickKids emergency department or St. Joseph’s Just For Kids Clinic for what turned out to be illnesses like a stomach bug or ear infection.

Both hospitals have reported a surge in patients with relatively minor illnesses this summer and fall. A spokesperson with SickKids told CBC News that August, usually its quietest month, was the busiest so far this year, seeing close to 6,000 patients. Parents reported wait times of up to 10 hours.

Sonu Maan has been trying all summer to get her one-year-old son Keish examined by his pediatrician for a fever, cough and runny nose, but he hasn’t been allowed in the clinic even after testing negative for COVID-19. On Tuesday, she said he once again has a fever and is hoping this letter pushes his doctor to see him in person this week.

The college previously told CBC News specialists are getting referrals for patients who haven’t first had a physical examination to determine if they actually need to see one.

The Ontario’s Patient Ombudsman and Advocacy Centre for the Elderly have also reported an increase in complaints from patients not able to see their doctor in person.

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